Oak Knoll Students Create Community Poems about Justice, Peace, and Compassion for All

After spending May guidance classes discussing U.S civil rights, equity, and race, Oak Knoll Upper School students in grades 7-10 pieced together two poems – using words, lines, or phrases from more than 150 OKS submissions – all reflective of justice, peace, and compassion for all.

During the final student homeroom of the school year on Friday, June 11, Oak Knoll students shared the two poems “We Are One” and “This is for Everyone” with the OKS community.

The OKS community poem project was inspired after a nationwide initiative the Southern Poverty Law Center launched requesting submissions to create a community poem. Kwame Alexander, the poet, selected lines from over 1000 entries and combined them into one single poem called “A Civil Community,” in which the contributors shared a vision for America the Beautiful. The final poem, representing the combined work of multiple contributors across the United States, will be displayed on a digital screen in the final gallery of the Civil Rights Memorial Center.

Drawing inspiration from the national initiative, History Department Chair Nicole Johnston suggested that Oak Knoll create its own community poem, and Academic Support Counselor Kelly Ross implemented the Community Poem Project in student guidance classes.

Students’ submissions were inspired by lines from “A Civil Community,” borrowing some of the poem’s key phrases including “Remember,” “This is for,” “We are,” and “Rise up.”

“This past year has highlighted the value of community and the strength found within it,” said Johnston. “We all have unique perspectives and life experiences. Through writing a community poem, we are not just one of many, but rather many coming together as one.”

Vanessa Brum ’23 said that poetry is an amazing medium by which to address injustice. 

“For me as a person of color student at Oak Knoll, I often have a different perspective than most of the girls at OKS,” said Brum. “ Due to that, I really felt the urge to be a part of this project in any way. I think the OKS community really did a great job by speaking about it through these poems.”  

Oak Knoll incoming Freshman Keira Ardise ’25 said that the community poem project was important because it helps put difficult feelings into words that can be shared.  

“Writing about civil rights, equity, and race can be hard, but the community poem gave me the chance to do that in an extremely easy way,” said Ardise.  “I learned that it can be really helpful to be part of group when talking about important topics such as race because you can learn and grow from other people’s ideas.”

Ross said that although it’s been a challenging year to build community, the community poem project was a good way to foster connectedness while many people are still physically apart.

“Through this experience, the students shared their collective voices and articulated their vision for a more just and equitable world,” said Ross. “The activity was a great way to affirm our commitment to our Holy Child Goals to ‘work for principles of justice, peace, and compassion in every facet of life’ and ‘to create a learning climate based on trust and reverence for the dignity and uniqueness of each person.’ We were so impressed by the student’s contributions and engagement in this activity.